TIME nature

Woman Hospitalized After Massive Sinkhole Swallows Car Whole

A man looks at a car as it falls into a sinkhole on McKnight Road in Ross Township of Pittsburgh on Aug. 12, 2014.
A man looks at a car as it falls into a sinkhole on McKnight Road in Ross Township of Pittsburgh on Aug. 12, 2014. Roxanne Oglesby—Reuters

"I felt a thunk"

A Pittsburgh woman escaped her car in the nick of time, eyewitnesses said, after a massive parking lot sinkhole opened up beneath the car and it sunk into a water-filled pit. Photos showed the back of the sedan sunken nearly up to its front wheels in a hole roughly three times the car’s width.

The woman reportedly escaped through the passenger window and was listed in good condition.

“I felt a thunk,” the car’s owner, Natalie Huddleston, told KDKA news, “and all of a sudden I was tilted and I felt movement, I was swaying, I kept drifting back and realized I was stuck in this hole.”

[KDKA]

TIME Australia

Whale Collisions Spark Calls for Ship Speed Limits in Australia

A humpback whale breaches the surface by propelling most of its body from the sea in Hervey  Bay
A humpback whale breaches the surface off the East Coast of Australia on Aug. 7, 2006 Russell Boyce—Reuters

Instances of gruesome whale collisions have prompted a conversation about whether to impose speed limits for ships along Australia's coast

Right now, some 20,000 humpback whales are enjoying the warm waters of Australia’s East Coast, where they migrate every year during Antarctica’s winter to feed, breed and calve. They are the product of a wildly successful conservation program launched in 1979 that brought the humpback from the brink of extinction following decades of industrial slaughter.

The species’ recovery has also given birth to a thriving whale-watching industry that generates some $300 million and attracts 1.6 million people per year. From the beaches of Sydney, where surfers rub shoulders with the 30-ton mammals, to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, where a rare albino humpback called Migaloo was last seen, the whales are a symbol of Australia’s love for the ocean and how far it has come from the cruel, unsustainable ways of its past.

But the humpback’s stellar comeback has also led to increasingly frequent “whale strikes” — collisions with ships that cause gruesome propeller lacerations and even sever spines. It is part of a global phenomenon seen from such places as Sri Lanka, the Mediterranean and the U.S. Atlantic coast, where overlap between busy shipping lanes and whale habitats has left trails of mutilation.

In early May, a Norwegian cruise liner unknowingly dragged a dead sei whale, which had become caught on its bulbous bow, into the Hudson River. Three days later, another sei was found attached to a container ship docking near Philadelphia. In June, a humpback known as Max that had been visiting Alaska’s Glacier Bay for 39 years was found floating dead in the ocean with its jawbone nearly cut off. The discovery became the subject of a investigation by Alaskan wildlife officials to identify the ship that killed Max — a near impossible task given that most whale strikes by large ships go unreported or unnoticed. Cambridge-based International Whaling Commission, the world authority on the subject, has struggled to quantify the problem. It can’t provide any kind of accurate numbers but nevertheless holds that for some whale species and populations, strikes “may make the difference between extinction and survival.”

Whale strikes don’t currently pose a tangible risk to humpback populations in Australia. But a controversial government decision to expand a series of coal ports along the coast of the Great Barrier Reef — the humpback’s most important East Coast calving ground — is projected to massively increase sea traffic over the reef. And that will spell carnage for humpbacks, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which is calling for the introduction of 10-knot speed limits for large ships in two key humpback habitats near two of the largest ports.

“From our organization’s point of view, the killing of even one whale is an issue,” says IFAW campaign manager Sharon Livermore.“But from the evidence we do have of whales that have been found dead or stranded, we know the number of reported strikes represents a small number of the actual number being injured or killed.”

“Calls for speed limits are very much warranted,” adds Joshua Smith of the Murdoch University Cetacean Research Unit. “We know humpbacks are already in conflict with shipping, and if you do the maths with these new megaports, you can see the problem is going to get much worse. A national whale-strike strategy is a sound precautionary principle.”

IFAW points to a similar initiative off the coast of the Georgia-Florida border, where 10-knot speed limits on large ships were introduced in 2008 to prevent collisions with critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. Thirteen rights were killed as a result of strikes in the 18-month period before the speed limit went into effect, compared to zero fatalities reported in the six years that have passed since. And in New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf, the Port of Auckland has introduced voluntary speed restrictions to protect critically endangered Bryde’s whales after scientists estimated a 10-knot speed limit would reduce strike fatalities by 75%.

But Sheila Peake, a lecturer in ecotourism and environmental science at the University of the Sunshine Coast, says not enough is known about the humpback’s migratory routes in Australia to make speed restrictions effective.

“You can’t just say if we introduce speed limits for ships in one or two areas we will reduce whale strikes,” Peake says. “Not enough is known about the areas whales pass through to get there from Antarctica. And if you lay speed limits across the whole East Coast, it will have quite an impact on other industries and recreational fishing.”

Simon Meyjes, CEO of Australian Reef Pilot, a company that’s been guiding large ships through the Great Barrier Reef for more than a century, says 10-knot speed limits in front of coal ports will have next to no impact on reducing whale strikes because coal carriers steam at maximum speeds of 10 to 12 knots.

“I would say these slow ships account for two-thirds of the traffic on the Great Barrier Reef. The other third are faster container ships, livestock carriers and passenger ships that steam at 17 to 19 knots. They can’t be operated for long periods of time at 10 knots as the speed falls within those ship’s critical vibration range. It would risk major damage to their equipment and make it difficult to keep our supermarket shelves stocked.”

Meyjes also questions IFAW estimates that the number of ships passing through the Great Barrier Reef will almost double by 2020. “Shipping increases only as fast as the overall economy grows, so all these stories about huge increases are simply misguided,” he says. “In the last 10 years, traffic on the reef has increased an average of 3.5% a year.”

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority tells TIME it is liaising with IFAW and the shipping industry on the viability of speed limits, but that “given shipping is an internationally regulated industry … measures need to be linked to the strategic direction of the International Maritime Organization and supported by strong documentation.” In other words: Australia is unlikely to introduce speed limits until the movement to prevent whale strikes gains global traction.

In the sun-kissed Whitsunday archipelago 1,000 km north of Brisbane, Bill Hutchinson weaves and bobs his high-speed catamaran through waters literally heaving with humpbacks, carefully abiding to a local law that requires him to remain at least 300 m away from whales. In 44 years on the job, he’s never hit one.

“How do you avoid them? You can’t,” he says. “When the mothers are feeding their calves on the surface, they’re really docile. So we keep as far away as possible. But if it gets cloudy or the water gets choppy, visibility suffers. You can’t be watching out for whales all the time.”

TIME weather

WATCH: Lightning Strike in NYC Caught on Video

You may not be able to capture lightning in a bottle, but you can certainly post it on YouTube

+ READ ARTICLE
TIME Stem Cells

Blockbuster Stem-Cell Studies Retracted Because of Fraud

Editors of Nature, which published two papers claiming to generate stem cells in a simplified way, are retracting both papers after data was “misrepresented.”

In an editorial published on Wednesday, editors at the scientific journal Nature announced their decision to retract two papers that received wide media attention, including by TIME, for apparently dramatically simplifying the process of creating stem cells. Genetically manipulating older, mature cells are the only confirmed methods for reprogramming them back to their embryonic state, but in the Nature papers, Japanese scientists claimed to have accomplished the feat by physical means, using an acidic bath or physical stress.

Several months after the papers were published, one of the co-authors, from the RIKEN Institute, called for their retraction, saying “I’m no longer sure that the articles are correct.” RIKEN’s own probe determined that the studies’ lead author, Haruko Obokata, was guilty of misconduct.

At the time, Nature launched its own investigation into concerns that some of the figures in the paper contained errors, and that parts of the text were plagiarized. The journal now says that “data that were an essential part of the authors’ claims have been misrepresented. Figures that were described as representing different cells and different embryos were in fact describing the same cells and the same embryos.”

MORE: Stem-Cell Scientist Guilty of Falsifying Data

While scientific journals have peer-review processes to check researchers’ work, they rely on the fact that the scientists are presenting their data in their entirety and without any biases—something that didn’t occur in this case.

Nature’s editors say they are reviewing their review process and intend to improve on the way they select articles to ensure that such mistakes are minimized.

TIME nature

Beachgoers Beware: The Great White Shark Population Is Growing Again

Great White Sharks
This undated photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a great white shark encountered off the coast of Massachusetts Greg Skomal—AP

There are over 2,000 living off the coast of California alone, according to recent studies

New research suggests that the population of great white sharks off both coasts of the U.S. is growing again after years on the decline.

One report ventures that there are over 2,000 great whites living off California — 10 times the amount estimated by a recent Stanford University study. On the other side of the country, scientists haven’t been able to conclude an exact population size, but estimations suggest that the sharks in the Atlantic are rebounding, after a significant drop in the 1970s and 1980s because of commercial shark fishing.

The upswing is likely the result of wildlife-preservation efforts over the past two decades, although conservationists are hesitant to celebrate the news. For one, the great white belongs to a group of aquatic species that typically struggle to recover from sharp declines in population. What’s more, their generally reclusive behavior often requires scientists to rely on guesswork when keeping tabs on them — and a dearth of historical information doesn’t help

“They’re back on the way up, but to be honest, I don’t think any of us know what ‘up’ is,” George Burgess, a Florida-based researcher, told Live Science. “The fact is, we have no real idea what [the population] was before we started screwing around with the environment on both coasts.”

TIME Sports

This Seems Like the Worst Way to Get to Hawaii Ever

The Great Pacific Race

It all depends on your arm strength

Hawaii is a great vacation destination, but would you want to spend a few months trapped in a 24-foot-long enclosed space without hot water to get there? Oh yeah, and you’ll have to be doing manual labor in the sun every day on the way there. That’s the journey a dozen teams are undertaking with the Great Pacific Race, the first rowing race from California all the way to the islands.

Teams range from just one person to a pair or four people, who take turns paddling their way across the ocean. It’s 2,400 miles of open water. The fiberglass boats used for the trip are tiny self-sustaining environments with watertight cabins, water filters, and a stash of food supplies. But it’s not all hardship. Rowers have traveled right next to whales and dolphins—moving solely by arm strength, it’s the closest you can get to the ocean without being in it.

Fees for the race range over $25,000, but that should discourage anyone not quite committed enough to pushing themselves across the Pacific. The director of the race, Chris Martin, completed a rowing trip across the Atlantic solo in 2005, so competitors have a lot to live up to.

The teams are setting off now, and their progress can be tracked by GPS on the race’s website. Warning: It’s a slow process.

TIME Environment

Invasive Species: Not Always the Enemy

Endangered bird in invasive species
The California Clapper Rail has come to depend on invasive Spartina cordgrass Image courtesy of Robert Clark

The usual policy with invasive species is to eradicate them whenever possible. But in a changing world, that may not be possible

By some estimates, invasive species are the second-biggest threat to endangered animals and plants. Which is a problem, because invasions are on the rise, thanks to increasing global trade, climate change and habitat loss, all of which are turning the planet into a giant mixing bowl as invasive species spread across the globe. So it’s not surprising that many conservationists treat invasive species as enemy combatants in a biological war. The federal government spent $2.2 billion in 2012 trying to prevent, control and sometimes eradicate invasive species, in an effort that involved 13 different agencies and departments.

But un-mixing the global mixing bowl may be impossible—human activity has simply altered the planet too much. And as a new study in Science suggests, some invasive species have become so embedded in their environment that they could only be removed at great cost. Take them away and an ecosystem might collapse, in the same way that pulling a single thread can cause an entire tapestry to unravel.

Researchers from the University of California-Davis examined the relationship between the California Clapper Rail—an endangered bird found only in San Francisco Bay—and the invasive saltmarsh cordgrass hybrid Spartina. The Army Corps of Engineers originally introduced the grass Spartina alterniflora into San Francisco Bay in the mid-1970s in an effort to reclaim lost marshland. Unsurprisingly, though, the introduced species didn’t stay in its niche—it hybridized with native Spartina grass and began spreading, displacing the native Spartina and eventually invading more than 800 acres. That was a problem for the clapper rail, because the bird depended on the native Spartina as a habitat. So the Spartina casebecame a classic example of an invasive species causing trouble for an endangered native, which is why efforts began in 2005 to eradicate it. Those efforts were successful—more than 90% of the invasive Spartina has been removed, though the native plant has been slow to recover.

But something unexpected happened: Between 2005 and 2011, populations of the federally endangered clapper rail fell by nearly 50%. That’s likely because the bird came to depend on the invasive Spartina for habitat just as it had on the native. And since the population of the native grass wasn’t rebounding, the eradication of the invasive Spartina left the clapper rail that much more vulnerable. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to prohibit further eradication of the invasive Spartina, while transplanting nursery plants of the native Spartina.

As an invasive species, though, the hybrid Spartina was still marked for death—the question was how to complete eradication of the plant without accidentally eradicating an endangered species as well. The Science researchers modeled out possible interventions and found that the best solution was to slow down the eradication of the invasives until the native plants could recover and the ecosystem could return to something like its natural state. The default reaction to invasives is to stamp them out whenever possible, but the Science study demonstrated that the collateral damage would simply be too great.

“Just thinking form a single-species standpoint doesn’t work,” said Alan Hastings, a UC Davis environmental science and policy professor and a co-author of the paper, in a statement. “The whole management system needs to take longer, and you need to have much more flexibility in the timing of budgetary expenditures over a longer time frame.”

This isn’t the only example of a conflict between eradicating an invasive species and protecting an endangered one that has come to depend on it. In the Southwest, a program to eradicate invasive Tamarisk was eventually scaled back when it was discovered that the tree provided a nesting habitat for the endangered Southern Willow fly-catcher bird. And as the pace of invasions around the world gains speed—and efforts to fight those invasions scale up—we can expect those conflicts to intensify.

That’s one reason why a small but growing number of wildlife ecologists have begun to question the wisdom of fighting an open-ended war against invasive species. In 2011, 19 ecologists co-authored an influential article in Nature arguing that we should judge species not by their origin, but by their impact on the environment. That piece produced serious pushback by mainstream ecologists accustomed to the eradication paradigm, but in a planet that has been so fundamentally remade by human beings—the ultimate invasive species—it’s clear that an all-out war can’t go on. “The planet is changing,” Mark Davis, a biologist at Macalester College and the lead author on the Nature article, told me not long ago. “If conservation is going to be relevant, it has to accept that.”

TIME Australia

Animal-Welfare Groups Hopping Mad Over Canberra’s Kangaroo Cull

Eastern gray kangaroos graze near Canberra Élodie Raitière—AFP/Getty Images

The Australian Capital Territory wants to reduce the number of kangaroos hopping about town for environmental reasons. But animal-rights groups are challenging the cull in court, saying the science isn't conclusive just yet

The old cliché about kangaroos hopping down the streets of Australia happens to be true in the national capital Canberra. Set 150 km from the east coast, among vast eucalyptus forests that are heavily prone to drought, the city’s parks, gardens, golf courses and sports grounds have proved irresistible to the iconic marsupial that is featured alongside the emu on Australia’s coat of arms. In fact, some of Canberra’s nature reserves boast the highest densities of kangaroos on the continent.

“Seeing kangaroos in urban areas is one of the best aspects of living in Canberra,” says Tara Ward, a legislative drafter with the Department of the Environment. “It’s one of the top things tourists want to see here because they don’t have to go for long drives to see our native animals.”

Yet interactions between humans and kangaroos can easily turn sour. In 2009, a kangaroo crashed through the window of a Canberra home, terrorized a family and gouged holes in their furniture until it escaped through an open door. In 2010, a footballer was knocked unconscious when he ran into a kangaroo in a Canberra park, while another man received deep gashes to his legs last year when he collided with one on a front lawn during his morning jog. “We both got a nasty fright — and of course when kangaroos are startled they lash out,” the victim, the capital territory’s minister for territory and municipal services Shane Rattenbury, said at the time.

In seeming contradiction to the philosophies of the Australian Greens party he represents, Rattenbury is now spearheading Canberra’s controversial kangaroo cull. Introduced in 2008 to prevent overgrazing, this year’s shoot puts over 1,600 eastern gray kangaroos in the cross hairs. “The primary goal of the conservation cull is to maintain kangaroos at sustainable densities to minimize the impact of heavy grazing on other native fauna and flora,” explains the Territory and Municipal Services website. “High numbers of kangaroos can eat down the ground-layer vegetation so it is no longer able to provide food and shelter for small animals.”

Australian National University conservation expert Professor David Lindenmayer says the science behind the cull is solid. “These woodlands were designed to have major predators like Tasmanian tigers, dingoes and Aboriginal hunters that were the key processes of population regulation,” he says. “And now we have significant amounts of extra water and grass, so it’s a double whammy.”

He adds, “Herbivore overpopulation is not just happening here, but in the U.S. and Patagonia with deer and with other species in different parts of the world. So for animal-welfare groups to say there is no evidence of it happening is like people saying there is no evidence of climate change. The data is very strong.”

Yet one of those welfare groups, Animal Liberation ACT, has thrown the demand for evidence-based environmental management back in the Establishment’s face. Earlier this month, the group’s lawyers, the Animal Defenders Office, persuaded a judge to grant a stay against the kangaroo cull on the basis that the government has failed in its duty to prove the kangaroo cull had improved biodiversity over the past six years.

“They have not collected any baseline data or monitoring data on the conditions of other species on the reserves they say they are saving,” says legislative drafter Ward, who moonlights as a volunteer with the Animal Defenders Office. “If the government wants to go and kill more than 1,600 healthy wild animals, we have to be clear that the science is impeccable before we let them do that.”

“And remember, those 1,600 deaths don’t take into account the joeys that have to be brutally dispatched by shooters after they’ve killed their mothers,” she says. “Part of the applicant’s contention is that it is impossible to carry this out without cruelty being involved.”

David Nicholls, a 70-year-old farmer who spent his whole life working in the bush — two years as a “roo shooter” — agrees. “You try to get clean head shots but it’s difficult because kangaroos are very jumpy — the slightest noise or change in the wind startles them,” he says. “You tell me which Olympic shooter can achieve 100% clean shots every time, even in perfect conditions? The clean-head-shot theory is a myth.”

The hearing to indefinitely end Canberra’s kangaroo cull commences on Thursday and concludes on June 2. In a bid to cool tempers, Rattenbury’s office has announced plans to use the drug deslorelin to neuter 500 eastern grays on a trial basis — the largest neutering drive ever performed on kangaroos. But with costs projected at $830 per animal — three times what it costs to shoot them — and data showing deslorelin can cause cancer, the trial isn’t expected to go mainstream anytime soon. “And even if it does work, those nonbreeding animals will continue to eat large amounts of food throughout their lives,” says Lindenmayer.

“The reality is this debate is not about science or the environment. It’s about people’s value sets,” he says. “Some people look at the world from a purely utilitarian viewpoint; others have a strictly bioethical position.”

TIME nature

Alaska Woman Walks a Mile After Being Mauled in Bear Attack

Brown Bears Fishing In Alaska
A brown Bear is pictured at sunrise catching a salmon at Mount Kukak on August 28, 2011 in Katmai National Park, Alaska. Jon Cornforth—Barcroft Media/Getty Images

A jogger on an Alaskan Air Force base narrowly survived the mauling with wounds to her arms, legs, neck and torso, but still managed to walk most of the way home

A woman in Alaska walked one mile with claw marks across her arms, legs, neck and torso, after she escaped a terrifying encounter with a brown bear on Sunday.

CNN reports that the woman—who did not wish to reveal her name—was jogging with her husband along a well-trodden path at an Alaskan Air Force base. The husband ran ahead, and she alone turned a corner, coming face to face with a mother bear and her two cubs.

The bear took a defensive stance, according to an Air Force spokeswoman, and then attacked the woman. She escaped and walked one mile toward the base before a passerby spotted her on the path.

She was taken to Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage for treatment and is reportedly in stable condition.

Air Force spokeswoman Angela Webb said it was the first bear encounter on the base since 2010, adding that attacks are extremely rare. “In this particular case, the runner turned the corner at the wrong time and wrong place,” she said. [CNN]

TIME weather

Entire State of California Facing Worst Drought Since Tracking Began

California Drought
Cracks in the dry bed of the Stevens Creek Reservoir in Cupertino, Calif., on March 13, 2014. Marcio Jose Sanchez—AP

The entire state of California is suffering the most intense drought since the federal government began monitoring drought levels in 2000. Wildfires in the south have burned down at least 30 homes, in an “unprecedented” intensity, climatologist Mark Svoboda said

The entire state of California is facing a “severe” drought or worse for the first time since tracking began in 2000, according to the federal U.S. Drought Monitor.

The level of drought in the state, where wildfires in the south have burned down at least 30 homes, is “unprecedented” over the past decade and a half, climatologist Mark Svoboda, from the National Drought Mitigation Center, which runs the monitor based out of Nebraska, told USA Today.

Nearly a quarter of the state is facing an “exceptional” drought, the worst possible categorization, including the entire Bay Area. Another half of the state, including Los Angeles and San Diego, is in the midst of an “extreme” drought, while the remainder of the state is in the midst of a “severe” drought, the third most dire category.

[USA Today]

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